A Functional Medicine Approach To Cognitive Health - Mood Restoration Institute

Maintaining Cognitive Health

Cognitive and neurological health refers to the health of the brain at any age across the lifespan.  It encompasses how effectively the brain communicates with the body while maintaining other vital functions such as memory, judgment, attention and focus, balance and coordination, language, emotional regulation, and the ability to learn new information.

Common Cognitive Symptoms

Issues with cognitive or neurological health can manifest in a variety of ways. For example, some cognitive problems, like brain fog, forgetfulness, or trouble remembering names, are often accepted as “just part of getting older.”  Or there may be more serious signs of cognitive impairment and like the serious memory problems and behavioral changes that can be seen with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

We are now realizing through medical research that many symptoms of cognitive decline actually originate in body systems outside of the brain and that the problems that lead to dementia and cognitive decline in our later years actually start decades before we start symptoms of declining memory.  This means that it’s important to prioritize our health and lifestyle changes in our 30s, 40s, and 50s if we want to invest in brain health and longevity in our later years.

Other neurological problems, like those brought on by head injuries from sports or car accidents, aren’t always given the proper treatment at the time of occurrence which can lead to long-term brain health consequences, including depression and mood changes.

Conventional Treatment Approaches

Severe cognitive decline is typically seen among aging adults (60+), but now we are seeing more individuals even in their 40’s starting to suffer from cognitive issues.

Many people in their 40s and 50s notice that their memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be and they struggle with things like recall of names and retrieving words.  If tested, they often still perform within the normal range on standardized tests and their memory changes don’t have a notable impact on overall functioning and activities.  The term for this self-report of mild memory changes is Subjective Cognitive Impairment (SCI) and the conventional medical approach is to typically write this off to “normal” aging and not offer any interventions or lifestyle counseling.  SCI can later progress to Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) where family and friends might start to notice a decline in memory, language, thinking, or judgment, but it still doesn’t have a significant impact typical daily activities.  There are currently no drugs approved for MCI and again, very little counseling is typically given regarding lifestyle changes that can slow or reverse the progression of MCI to Alzheimer’s or other dementias.  

It is critical to recognize the early stages of cognitive decline because research now shows that changes in lifestyle and controlling certain chronic medical conditions (such as insulin resistance and type II diabetes) may have a profound impact on restoring and preserving memory and cognitive functioning.

The use of conventional and functional medicine lab testing can identify many root-causes that may contribute to cognitive decline.  This testing becomes an important tool in crafting a precision medicine treatment plan for each person based on their individual risk factors and imbalances.

The Functional Medicine Approach

The Functional Medicine approach to healing cognitive decline is also a “whole body” approach to care.

This means we investigate multiple systems in the body to see how they may be impacting your brain health and functioning.  Some key areas of investigation include your gut and hormone balance, sources of chronic inflammation, toxic exposures and infections, insulin and blood sugar metabolism, as well as deficiencies in key nutrients.

Through advanced medical research we’ve recently discovered that nutrition and targeted diets (such as the ketogenic diet) can play a significant part in treating and reversing cognitive decline.  Unfortunately, nutrition is not a current part of most standard medical school training, but it is a primary focus in functional medicine training.

We’ve also discovered that deficiencies in key brain nutrients could be to blame for many cognitive issues.  When we identify these types of deficiencies, we support healthy brain function with high-quality, medical grade supplementation and a functional nutrition diet.

Only with a deep understanding of the complex interplay between the gut, inflammation, hormonal health and other factors, can we accurately assess and treat the true causes of cognitive decline.

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